30 Mar 2018

Out-going Christchurch Art Gallery head says overseas galleries still need reassurance

9:22 am on 30 March 2018

The director of the Christchurch Art Gallery, who saw the gallery through thousands of earthquakes and a five year closure, has retired from her position after 12 years in the job.

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Photo: Image: Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu

Jenny Harper took over as director of the Christchurch Art Gallery in 2006.

In 2011, after 22 February earthquake, the Art Gallery became the Civil Defence hub for ten days after other council buildings had suffered more damage.

The glass fronted building seemed an unlikely safe haven in a disaster, but Jenny Harper said they only had one cracked pane of glass.

The building was used as a headquarters for civil defence and a hub for people seeking help.

"Not something you want to happen but I never begrudged it becoming the centre of the city for a time."

The art gallery then had to close while it underwent retro-fitting of base isolation.

The work took five years to complete, and Ms Harper said no-one had realised how long it was going to take.

"We knew we needed to be base isolated and strengthen in order to be in line for any future international exhibitions and improve our chance of our collection and insurance remaining in place. We needed to take the time."

She said reassuring galleries overseas that Christchurch is a safe place for their precious art works is still a work in progress.

"Places on the Pacific Rim, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Japan understand base isolation and what we've done. Australia is less clear. We are educating them to an extent, but I think we'll have no trouble. We have good climate control now and very good processes in place, and probably should be no trouble. If we hadn't retro-fitted [base isolation] it would have been a different story."

She said the reopening weekend in 2016 was a very special time.

"It was extraordinary when we re-opened. It was the most amazing time, people coming in in tears as they saw works they hadn't seen for a while. It was the most joyous weekend imaginable. I received more random hugs than any other time in my life. It was terrific."

While the gallery was shut, the gallery staff ran a programme called Outer Spaces, with 101 exhibitions held at temporary locations around the city.

Ms Harper said she is retiring, but expects it to be an active retirement, with some projects already in mind.

Jenny Harper's last day in the role is today.

Blair Jackson, who was previously the gallery's Deputy Director and Curatorial, Collections and Programmes Manager, has been named as her replacement.

He will begin his new role on Tuesday.